With a decade and counting career thus far typified by a steadfast devotion to their own signature brand of churning, slow-motion doom, Conan‘s terrifying ensemble power has seen them garner not only a fearsome reputation in the metal underground, but also make a fleeting (and more than a little peculiar) impact on the hipster contingent, becoming ‘cool’ in the same circles as craft beer and the man-bun. Despite this, however, the Liverpudlian trio seldom stray from their template of Sabbath-saluting riff worship, and their fourth full-length Existential Void Guardian remains several magnitudes heavier than anything to have assaulted your lug ‘oles in recent times.
It is certainly not all business as usual here, though, with a number of brief excursions seeing Conan flex their creative muscle beyond anything we have seen previously from the band. Indeed, although 2016’s Revengeance experimented with pacier cuts and even a scattering of blast-beats, the flailing grindcore burst of ‘Paincantation’ is both wholly unexpected and thrilling, its heads-down hostility clocking in at just shy of a minute and encompassing all the extreme metal subtly of a runaway Panzer.
Elsewhere, ‘Void Thrower’ showcases an insistent, rumbling groove that may exhibit the band at their most concisely tuneful, whereas woozily unnerving closer ‘Eternal Silent Legend’ takes their traditional Lovecraftian essence and filters this through a haze of almost ’70s inspired, Hammer Horror atmospherics, making for something so downright sonically unpleasant even the most hardened of metalheads will suffer sleepless nights.
It is impressive that Conan are able to raise their own individual bar in terms of flat-out destructive force, whilst at the same time delivering a record that thrums with diversity and dynamic endeavour. Even more customary tracks, like the toweringly grotesque ‘Amidst The Infinite’ or the rambling thunder and battle-hardened vocals of ‘Eye To Eye To Eye’, are imbued with a fresh urgency, perhaps in part due to a pristine production job lending that added detuned weight and gleefully modern punch. As it is, Existential Void Guardian is Conan on career peak form, and feels like a definitive statement from one of doom metal’s most dedicated and fearless practitioners.
Existential Void Guardian is out now on Napalm Records. Purchase here.
Words: Tony Bliss